The Ultimate Recycling Project

“R-E-C-Y-C-L-E.  That’s the way it’s supposed to be,” sang Tom Chapin.  With Earth Day just around the corner, it’s a good time to reassess how what we do impacts the environment.  Preservationists are always thinking about recycling, whether consciously or unconsciously, as historic preservation is inherently “the ultimate recycling project.”

By nature, historic preservation is much more sustainable than building from scratch.  By using existing structures, you reduce waste and conserve energy.

NYC - Battery: Battery Maritime Building

New York City’s Battery Maritime Building, restored beginning in 2001. Flickr Photo by Wally Gobetz

How exactly does adaptive reuse differ in environmental impact from new building projects?  A study by the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Preservation Green Lab put it simply: “Building reuse almost always yields fewer environmental impacts than new construction when comparing similar size and functionality.”  Of course, the exact amount of environmental savings depends on the specific building and location, but overall environmental savings for reused buildings can be up to 46% higher when compared to newly built structures.

Historic structures even perform better than most “green” buildings when looking at the immediate climate-change impact.  Green buildings—those more than 30% energy efficient than the average building—can take up to eighty years to cancel out the negative effects of the construction-from-scratch process.  When you adapt and retrofit, you lose many of those negative impacts that are part of the initial construction process.

Bunces Barn

Bunces Barn was restored in 2005/6 using traditional methods appropriate to the buildings age.   Flickr photo by FranserElliot

Traditional building materials also tend to be extremely durable, even more so than some modern equivalents.  Many historic structures were designed to deal with changes in light and temperature without modern conveniences like electricity, air conditioning, and central heating, making them more energy efficient.  A deep front porch?  Not just a nice place to sit and chat, but also a way to keep a building’s exterior cool and out of direct sunlight.  Glazed interior windows and doors?  Not a product of some outdated trend, just a means for letting in natural light while still giving privacy.

The bottom line?  When possible, reuse and adapt structures, as it will do more than just preserve the historic fabric of a community.  So, on the occasion of Earth Day 2014, don’t forget: buildings can be recycled, too!


The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Environmental Value of Adaptive Reuse (Executive Summary) by Preservation Green Lab

Quantifying the Value of Building Reuse A Life Cycle Assessment of Rehabilitation and New Construction by Quantis

 Illustrated Guidelines on Sustainability for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings by the U.S. Department of the Interior

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Defining “Heritage Travel”

Itchy feet.  Wanderlust.  The travel bug.  There are many names for the desire to travel. And now, more than ever, there are a myriad of different ways you can satisfy that desire.  There’s adventure traveling and voluntourism and eco-tourism and medical tourism and heritage tourism, just to name a few.

Adventures in Preservation’s trips, for example, give participants a chance to partake of purposeful heritage travel.  But what is heritage travel, really?  A big part of heritage travel at AiP comes from the opportunities jammers have to get their hands dirty and to feel—literally—the history of a place, be it the Bronx, Albania, Italy, or anywhere in between.

Working on plaster restoration at an AiP workshop in Albania in September 2010. Photo: AiP.

Working on plaster restoration at an AiP project in Albania in September 2010. Photo: AiP.

This tangibility is important, but it’s not the only defining characteristic of heritage travel.  The chance to do hands-on history through preservation and conservation projects is a wonderful thing and offers many one-of-a-kind experiences.  But there is so much more to heritage travel, things that are a part of Adventures in Preservation trips and can also easily be a part of your next travel adventure, no matter where you’re going or with whom.

The ever-trusty source Wikipedia gives the following definition for heritage tourism, citing the U.S. National Trust for Historic Preservation: “travelling to experience the places and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past.”  Of course, you can crack open a history book to learn about the past experiences of a people, but getting up close and personal, as it were, brings those textbook concepts to life.

This includes tangible physical structures and material goods, and the less-tangible cultural traditions like food, music, and dance.  Those less-tangible aspects of culture have the advantage of being transportable, but if your goal is to have the most authentic experience and to gain the highest level of cultural understanding, then I don’t thinking whipping up some Barilla pasta in your kitchen counts as really experiencing Italian culture.  Without getting into the ongoing debate facing our globalized, digital world of what exactly authenticity is, I think it’s safe to say that eating pasta in a medieval Italian palazzo heightens the experience.

Breakfast at Palazzo Galletti Photo: Ortolan Studio

Breakfast at Palazzo Galletti, Serravalle VT, Italy  Photo: Ortolan Studio

Connecting to a sense of place goes beyond eating delicious food in historic locations.  Music, dance, folk art, and crafts play important roles in many cultures, and experiencing them is a vital part of heritage travel.  No matter how well you may think you know a place, there are sure to be new, unique cultural traditions to discover.

There’s another aspect to heritage travel, too.  Traveling to connect not just with a culture or cultural history but rather to connect with your own personal cultural history and family tree is becoming increasingly popular.  This often includes traveling to get to know traditional cultures, along with trips to see old churches, cemeteries, and houses.

Heritage travel encompasses both the tangible and the intangible aspects of cultural—feeling the past through work or study of buildings, art, and material culture, and “feeling” out the community, the people, and the traditions.  It’s digging up a plantation house in Virginia, studying frescoes in Italy, and plastering Ottoman-era houses in Albania.  It’s checking out the local market in Turkey, visiting a Catholic cemetery on All Saints’ Day in Poland, observing a demonstration of traditional Croatian dance just yards from the Adriatic coast, and cowering from people dressed up as violent Alpine spirits.  And that’s just a start.

Sankt Florianer Krampuslauf

The Alpine spirits come out in Austria just before Christmas. Photo: Hallie Borstel

Learn More

Adventures in Preservation – Heritage travel with purpose

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Pi Day! Mathematician-Related Historic Sites

I’m no mathematician (in fact, geometry ranked highly in my shortlist of most-hated classes in high school), but I do know that 3.14 is a very significant number.  And since 2009, March 14th has been officially recognized as Pi Day (or Pi Approximation Day, if you want to get specific) by the U.S. Congress.  While many people celebrate with the other great pie, one with a flaky crust and sweet fruity filling, why not celebrate instead by checking out our list of historic sites associated with pi’s discoverers?

Archimedes: Syracuse, Italy – Archimedes was born between 290 and 280 BC in Syracuse. Not the Onondaga county seat in New York, but the one on the Italian island of Sicily. Archimedes came up with new ways to approximate the value of pi. While there are no historic sites specifically related to Archimedes, you can visit plenty of places that will give you a good idea of what Archimedes’s Syracuse was like. The Neapolis Archaeological Park contains structures dating from the fifth century BC up to medieval times, including a Greek theatre from the time Archimedes lived in the city.

The Greek Theatre at Neapolis Archaeological Park. Photo: Claus Moser via

Zu Chongzhi: Nanjing, China – Zu Chongzhi lived from AD 429-500. He worked on a variety of things in the field of mathematics, including work with calendars. As for his relationship with pi, he derived the most accurate approximation of pi which then was used for the next 900 years. Like with Archimedes, there are no specific Zu Chongzhi historic sites. His hometown of Jiankang no longer exists as an independent town, it is now part of Nanjing. Luckily, there are a few remnants of fifth century Jiankang that still remain.  The Yangshan Quarry is designated as a historic site (and has a children’s amusement park!), and one of Nanjing’s most important Buddhist temples, Qixia Temple, was founded in 489. While none of the original structures exist, there are many man-made caves that date from the fifth century.

Grottoes at Qixia Temple, unknown date. Photo: Kerk L. Philipps via

Ludolph van Ceulen: Leiden, the Netherlands – German-born Ludolph van Cuelen (1540-1610) was both a mathematician and fencing teacher.  He was the first mathematics professor at Leiden University.  He also was the first to calculate pi to 35 digits (the “Ludolphine number”).  He was buried at the Gothic Pieterskerk (St. Peter’s Church) in Leiden, with the 35 digits of pi inscribed on his tombstone.  The original stone was lost, but a new one was erected in 2000.  Though now an event space and not a church, the Pieterskerk is still open to visitors.

The Pieterskerk. Photo:

William Jones and John Machin: London, England - William Jones is the man we can thank for the use of π to represent 3.14.  The Welsh mathematician lived from 1675-1749.  In 1711, he was appointed a fellow of the Royal Society of London (whose president at that time was none other than Isaac Newton). Englishman and  fellow Royal Society member John Machin (1686-1751) computed pi to 100 decimal places. At the time, the Royal Society met in rooms at Crane Court, one of which was designed by famed architect Christopher Wren.  Today Crane Court still exists but is quite different from its 18th century counterpart. However, the alley’s mathematical past is marked by a lamp in the shape of a model of the solar system.

The entrance to Crane Court, complete with a solar-system-shaped lamp. Photo: The Londonist

Leonhard Euler: Berlin, Prussia and St. Petersburg, Russia – While it was William Jones who introduced the symbol π, it was Euler who made it popular. Euler (1707-1783) was born in Switzerland but spent most of his life in Berlin and St. Petersburg.  In Berlin he was a member of the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences, which moved to its current location in 1752.  Today the Academy functions under the name “Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities.”  Euler returned to St. Petersburg in 1771 and lived there until his death.  On the 250th anniversary of his death, he was reburied at the Alexander Nevsky Monastery.  The monastery features Baroque churches, a Neoclassical cathedral, and several recently erected monuments.

Entrance to the Alexander Nevsky Monastery. Photo:

Of course, there are so many more mathematicians involved with the development of pi who we could mention.  But we won’t keep you here all day—or for 371 days, which is how long it took a computer to calculate pi to the ten trillionth digit.

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Between a Post and a Stop: What Time is This Place?

Zeina Elcheikh writes about her encounter with a “historic” tourist attraction in Egypt.

Apologizing for using the title of Kevin Lynch’s fabulous book as a part of this piece’s title keeps me safe from being accused of committing a flagrant clone-plagiarism. However, the title of Lynch’s book is what first came to my mind when I visited “that place”. Everything began with how “that place” had been advertised to me.

“Come with us on a journey through time to the rich and exciting age of the pharaohs”, a “time brought to life by an incredible group of actors and actresses, faithful and exact reproductions of buildings”. I read these words on an Egyptian travel website to market a tourist destination in Giza (east of Cairo): The Pharaonic Village. The website, and many others, described the Village as “a time machine”, or as “an excellent complement to a trip before going to Aswan and Luxor”.

The Temple

The Temple

Whether one is coming to Egypt as tourist, or as scholar in Egyptian history and archaeology, the Village is touted as a “must-see”. Then an Egyptian colleague described, proudly, how successful the Village was in creating an experience, “second to none”. He also went further to suggest it as a “role model” for socio-economic development on the nearby island. Moreover, assigned the topic of authenticity and profit in tourism, an Egyptian professor advised me to pay a visit. Thus my conception about “this place” moved from reading many posts to actually visiting the site.

Miniature replica of Abu Simbel Temple (Aswan)

Miniature replica of Abu Simbel Temple (Aswan)

The visit started with a tour in a boat, through the “mythological canal” to see miniature replicas of selective temples and Gods, with a recorded shortened explanation. This was followed by scenes from daily life in Ancient Egypt, performed by live actors. Other tours guide you through several parts of the village: replicas of the Pyramids, the Sphinx, and Tutankhamun’s Tomb. There are also exhibits on  Islam, Copts, ancient arts and beliefs, mummification, and former Egyptian presidents: Abdul Nasser and Sadat, and many others. Objects with historical value were showcased in some exhibits in the Village.

Mummification scene

Mummification scene

I noticed that cameras were not allowed, except with an extra charge, and then only mobile phones with no flash, in order not to damage the structures and displayed objects, which are replicas. Moreover, and perhaps in order to give the visitors an impression that they are in an authentic setting, many of the objects (replicas) were bounded with sort of “do-not-touch” fence.

Tour guide and visitor at the ancient Egyptian peasant’s house

The Pharaonic Village provides visitors with an oversimplified image of Egypt’s history, and consists primarily of recreation and shopping facilities revolving around the theme of Ancient Egypt. All the structures and services in the Village are designed and decorated with ancient Egyptians motifs, mostly exaggerated. Even veiled waitresses at one of many restaurants had worn a braided wig to look more “pharaonic”. The cultural and historical assets of the village are all created, making it more of a theme park, where the main drive is to emphasize a theme around which designs, costumed personnel and sales, all working in concert to create a special atmosphere for visitors.

The Pharaonic Village could also be seen as a tourist enclave with its “all-planned-ahead” and “all-inclusive” experience: beverages and food are not allowed on board, in order to encourage visitors to spend not only their time but their money in the restaurants and cafeterias. It might be a satisfactory alternatives for many tourists, who generally come with a will to see everything in a limited time. Therefore, the cultural experience offered in this tourist setting differs and depends on what visitors want to experience.

The obligatory gift shop

It might be a successful attraction for many, so I am in no position to criticize it. Yet, it is only about an opinion: my personal one. Could any visitor to Egypt, one who could afford time and money to visit wonderful museums and magnificent sites, be satisfied with a trimmed visit to replicas? Can the history of Egypt, with all its glory, richness and treasures be condensed in one place? “Such a place” was not an adequate answer for me.

Zeina Elcheikh, Syrian architect, holds an M.Sc. from Stuttgart University. She worked with German International Cooperation and the French Institute for the Near East in Syria. In Egypt, she joined the UNESCO office as an intern with the Wadi Halfa Museum project. She is also a member of AiP‘s Advisory Board.

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Slovenia…A Country of Culture and Charm

Once a significant part of the mighty Austro-Hungarian Empire, present-day Slovenia became an independent nation with the dissolution of Yugoslavia in 1991.  It is bordered by Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia.  Slovenia is renowned as a diligent, hard-working nation, part of the reason that it is the wealthiest of the new EU members. Slovenes constantly aim to prove themselves and to progress. Their toil and persistence has allowed many of its people to achieve at the global level. Slovenia boasts an exceptional number of top athletes particularly those involved in extreme sports, from mountaineering and speed skiing to ultra-marathon biking and competitive swimming.

A hint of Slovenia's sublime scenery - Flickr photo by Josef Grunig

A hint of Slovenia’s sublime scenery – Flickr photo by Josef Grunig

Slovenia has a very well-developed network of cultural institutions, organizations and associations, comparable with the wealthiest and most progressive countries in Europe. The range of cultural events, festivals, concerts and exhibitions is enough to satisfy the most demanding of visitors. Ljubljana (the capital) is a vibrant, youthful city with a thrilling arts scene, a myriad of festivals and impressive architecture that runs the stylistic gamut from Renaissance to Art Nouveau.

Flickr photo by Trodel

The Breg on the Krka River, Novo Mesto, Slovenia – Flickr photo by Trodel

Slovenia’s rich architectural heritage can be seen in both town and country. Well-preserved medieval town centers and more modern public buildings in various famous architectural styles will delight the most discerning architectural buff.

The unique features of rural architecture vary from region to region and are exemplified in open-air museums, castles, manor houses and palaces. The image of Slovenian towns and villages has emerged over centuries of pride, perseverance and hard work. The oldest well-preserved buildings include churches, monasteries and castles. Many date back to the Romanesque architectural period. Several Slovenian towns have well-preserved medieval town centers, which the country continually strives to maintain.  Distinctive architectural features of the countryside include Karst houses, channeled roof tiles, old granaries and village wells.

Villages like this one near Lake Bled dot the Slovenian countryside – Flickr photo by Josef Grunig

The small size of the market means that many artistic and cultural activities in Slovenia enjoy significant support and subsidies from the government and funding from local authorities. Slovenes are well-attuned to natural beauty and historic preservation and the inclination is always to protect and preserve its treasures.

Beehives in Slovenia are a folk art unto themselves - Flickr photo by juliemacnam

Beehives in Slovenia are a folk art unto themselves – Flickr photo by juliemacnam

The focus of AiP’s current project in Slovenia is the Beškovnikova Homestead located in the hills of southeastern Slovenia in the town of Vitanje. Together with our partner, Etno-eko, we have a developed an intergenerational experience that gives travelers of all ages the opportunity to explore Slovenia’s rural traditions. Younger folks will spend their days with award-winning educator Tanja Gobec in learning traditional crafts and skills, including, yes, a morning’s work on the farm. Older teens, parents and grandparents will join conservation work at the homestead cottage, learning wood carving, decorative painting. But never fear, they too will have a turn at farm chores!

Beškovnikova Homestead

Beškovnikova Homestead, site of AiP’s latest conservation project in Slovenia

Learn even more about this wonderful country — be one of the first families to sign up for Adventures in Preservation’s project in Slovenia and get a copy of the Lonely Planet Slovenia guidebook free!

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Love Shacks

When the B-52s sang of a love shack in 1989, they weren’t the first to tie buildings to love.  The concepts of a man building a house for his beloved or giving her a house as a present to prove his worth are nothing new.  They cross cultural boundaries and span centuries.  And when loves die, no one questions the erection of a monument.  In honor of Valentine’s Day, we’ve gathered together some of the greatest love shacks from around the world.

Osborne House was built for probably the best-known couple of their time: Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.  The two selected the Isle of Wight location for quiet country retreats and demolished the standing estate.  Albert then designed Osborne House for his wife, and the building was finished in 1851.  Victoria continued to visit the house after Albert’s early death in 1861.

Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. Photo:

The Hermesvilla in Vienna, Austria, is another royal palace built as a testament to love.  Completed in 1886, Austrian Emperor Franz Josef I gave his wife Elisabeth (“Sisi”) the villa as a present.  Sisi called it her “Palace of Dreams.”

The Hermesvilla. Photo: Wikipedia

Humayun’s Tomb is thought to be the earliest example of Mughal architecture.  Humayun, for whom the tomb was built, was the second Mughal emperor of India.  After his death, his wife Biga Begum commissioned the tomb.  Finished in 1570, it is also the earliest example of a garden tomb in India.

Humayun’s Tomb. Photo: Archaeological Survey of India

Perhaps one of the world’s most recognizable structures, the Taj Mahal is actually a mausoleum, despite its palace-like appearance.  Located in Agra, India, it was begun in 1631 by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife Arjuman Banu Begum.

The Taj Mahal. Photo: Wikipedia

Boldt Castle was begun around 1900 on the aptly named Heart Island in Upstate New York’s 1000 Island District.  Commissioned by the Waldorf Astoria Hotel proprietor, George Boldt, the castle was meant to show George’s love for his wife Louise.  When Louise died suddenly, construction on the house stopped and George’s family never returned.  It was finally completed in 1977.

Boldt Castle on Heart Island in the St. Lawrence River. Photo: Boldt Castle

Thornewood Castle just outside Tacoma, Washington, is another house that was built by a man as a gift for his wife.  The couple in this case were Chester and Anna Thorne, married for twenty years when construction on the house began in 1907.  The house is partly built out of an Elizabethan manor that was dismantled in England and shipped to Washington, and a “secret garden” stands on the grounds.

A front view of Thornewood. Photo: Thornewood Castle LLC

The story of Dobroyd Castle in West Yorkshire, England, appears in many places but is never quite the same.  Some say that when John Fielden was courting Ruth Stansfield, she agreed to marry him if he would build her a castle.  So build a castle he did.  Dobroyd Castle was completed in 1869, with the couple’s initials elaborately carved into the building in a dozen different places.

A postcard of Dobroyd Castle. Photo:

Lastly, while not built out of love or given to someone as a gift, it’s hard to leave out the building where courtly love grew up.  Under Eleanor of Aquitaine, the court at the Palace of Justice in Poitiers popularized the idea of courtly love.  Romantic notions that tie chivalry, knights, princesses, and castles to love can be traced back to here.

The dining hall at the Palace of Poitiers was added by Eleanor of Aquitaine around 1200. Photo: Office de Tourisme de Poitiers

Instead of chocolates or flowers, maybe you will get a house from your sweetheart this Valentine’s Day!

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The Houses that Cereal Built

We’re all familiar with houses built by presidents and senators, artists and architects.  Houses built by breakfast cereal magnates may not seem to rank in the same way; after all, what’s cereal compared to running the country or changing the history of art?  Mom always said breakfast was the most important meal of the day, and judging from these impressive structures, she’s totally right.

But first: a brief history of breakfast cereal.  The first cereal as we think of it today was developed by one Dr. James Jackson in 1863.  In the 1890s, two more men jumped on the metaphorical cereal train and were extremely successful: brothers John and W.K. Kellogg.  Their most popular product, Corn Flakes, debuted in 1894, was patented in 1896, and can still be found on the shelves of grocery stores everywhere.   From then on the cereal possibilities grew, and keep growing today.  Heads of these new cereal and grain companies often became quite wealthy, building grand estates as a testament to their business success.

And now, on to the houses brought to you by cereal.

The Mar-a-Lago Club has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1972.  Now owned and operated as a private club by Donald Trump, the massive 114-room structure was built between 1923 and 1927 by Marjorie Merriweather Post in a style reminiscent of a Mediterranean villa.  Post was the daughter of C.W. Post and heiress to the company Postum Cereals (now called Post Holdings, Inc. or Post Foods), known for cereals such as Grape-Nuts, Fruity Pebbles, and Honey Bunches of Oats.

The Mar-a-Lago Club. Photo by Steve Starr via National Geographic

Mar-a-Lago wasn’t Post’s only home.  In 1921, she built a half-timbered Tudor-style estate called Hillwood in Brookville on Long Island (after she sold it and moved to Washington, DC, she named her DC house “Hillwood” as well).  Meant to be a quiet country retreat, the main house of the Long Island Hillwood estate has 59 rooms, not to mention the guest cottages and 10-car garage.  It was sold to Long Island University in 1951 and is now part of the C.W. Post Campus.

The Marjorie Merriweather Post/Hillwood Estate. Photo:

Corn Flakes’s own W.K. Kellogg also showed his cereal success through his home.  He built his own Tudor-revival manor house in 1925 in Hickory Corners, Michigan.  The house sits on thirty-two acres, which are also home to a carriage house, green house, caretaker’s house, boathouse, pagoda, and Dutch windmill.  The estate was given to Michigan State University in 1951 and now operates as part of the Kellogg Biological Station.

W.K. Kellogg’s Manor House. Photo: W.K. Kellogg Biological Station

New health spas, too, were built thanks to breakfast cereal.  James Jackson established a health spa in Dansville, Livingston, New York, twenty years after developing the first-ever breakfast cereal.  The Jackson Sanatorium or “Castle on the Hill” is currently in preservation limbo.  Likewise, the Kellogg brothers ran the Battle Creek Sanatorium together until a feud tore them apart—W.K. got the cereal company and John got the sanatorium.  The building is now part of the Hart-Dole-Inouye Federal Center.

The Jackson Sanatorium. Photo: Castle on the Hill Facebook Group

The Hart-Dole-Inuoye Federal Center, formerly the Battle Creek Sanitarium. Photo: Michigan Economic Development Corporation

Who knew so much architecture could be traced right back to the unassuming breakfast cereal?

Want to learn even more about cereal’s effect on American culture?  Check out this article from Mental Floss.  Or to find out more about the Kelloggs, listen to this Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast!

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